Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Artist's Life - The Truth

This week I am working on a 30 x 48 inch panoramic painting of Montrose Canyon, a steep, rugged canyon in Catalina State Park, very close to our house. The painting is now into it's 2nd week, and when I think of the way that works of mine can stretch out, I still marvel sometimes at those artists that do works (many of them pretty good, no doubt) in 2 or 3 hours! My paintings can commonly take up to 3 weeks to do, depending on size. The big "Arizona the Beautiful II" that was sold at Marshall-LeKAE Gallery took a full month to finish - with nothing else on the easel and no diversions. Something that was on my mind this week was to perhaps share a little truth with you guys about the real state of an artist's life. I remember an article in a Tucson newspaper about how the state was displacing some low-rent artist studios in downtown Tucson, and what suprised me was not the content of the article, but the veritable torrent of abuse that flowed from the commenters logging on to the news site and basically just calling artists bums, lazy, get a job you loser type things. The reason I say this is quite shocking because I can tell you that almost all artists I know work very, very hard at their craft - some of us all the time. Sometimes no days off, nights, weekends, the entire bit. And when you do your taxes and look over your accounts at the end of the year, there is often a feeling like a protracted punch in the gut - and that feeling means that you could only be doing this if you love it. In art, you don't know when you are going to sell work, so you spend as little as you can get by with most of the time. When you do sell work, you have to immediately look at your obligations, how much for supplies to keep things going, how much for advertising and countless other required things - put tires on the car and buy yourself a couple of pairs of jeans, and then buckle down again. It is difficult, and it is uncertain, but it seems to me that if a person chooses to do this, as I have, and many others have - we make a sincere choice because we feel we almost have to. It's by no means a choice based on laziness or avoidance of work - on the contrary, it's a lot of work, with uncertain rewards and uncertain recognition. You have to love something if you are going to carry that much uncertainty and, oh yes - don't forget! Make beautiful and lasting works. And I think these things are mostly true for the other mid-career level artists, like myself. The others I know don't live in any fancy manner. Beautiful works, you may be suprised to know - come out of very modest, badly lit apartments. Paintings are carried around in old cars, and most of us don't wear gucci :) (Ok, now let's be fair, I probably wouldn't be caught dead in Gucci even if I could afford it.) Or the other thing is that artists have to have some other mode of income or stability alongside of their artwork. In my own case, my lovely wife has a normal job that keeps our family balanced - and I return the favor of her hard work by taking care of our son Liam during the week. A lot of artists I know have side jobs or trades to help them get thru - or the love of a partner who will feed them when things are slow. I worked part time at Barnes and Noble for quite awhile after moving to Arizona. But don't take any of this as a complaint - by no means. This is just the reality of a life that I and some of my friends live. I've been very fortunate to have been published in magazines, have my work collected by serious art collectors from all over, and to have been supported by wonderful galleries and sales people who really believed in the work. I do quite well, overall. However the uncertainty is always with you. So for anyone who might be tempted to stereotype artists as some kind of lazy bums, I'd suggest they ask themselves if they would deal with such a life and still be able to make beautiful works? Because there is no way to understand the life of the artist without understanding that you accept the difficulties that come with it - and the only people with the willpower to see it thru are the ones who can pull that plow and make something beautiful grow around them, despite everything else beating down on them. It is not a business for the lighthearted. But when it works, when things click - there is NOTHING like it in the world!

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